52 Documents in 52 Weeks #29: Bastardy Bonds

If you have an ancestor who was born in the 18th, 19th or perhaps even the early 20th century to parents who had not married, you might want to look into the existence of a bastardy bond.

What was this bond? Communities looked askance at children born out of wedlock in terms of their economic impact on the social order of the time. Who was to be financially responsible for a child born to a woman who had no husband? The bastardy bond made someone or several people responsible for the financial care of the child so that he or she did not become an economic burden to the town or county.

A friend of mine traced his family back into the early 1800s in North Carolina. He also had DNA testing done, but he was at a brick wall on his paternal line. DNA results showed no matches with his surname, but showed multiple matches with a surname that was nowhere to be found in his family tree.

I knew North Carolina had surviving bastardy bonds and suggested he search county records for them. He did and solved his problem – his paternal surname line ended about 1830 when a daughter had a child born out of wedlock – his ancestor. A bond posted by two men, who both had the same surname as his DNA matches, made them financially responsible for the baby born to his ancestor. Furthermore, a family whose surname matched theirs and matched the DNA results lived NEXT DOOR to the young woman who had given birth. Do we see a possible solution here???

I have come across bastardy bonds in two record sets, although there might be more. Most of the time, I have not found the bond itself, but have known of its existence because it is recorded in county court minutes. Some states, like North Carolina, have the actual bonds that still exist.

What is found in the court record or on the bond? The names of those securing the bond are always recorded because they are the people paying the bill for the child. Sometimes, the name of the mother is included, but, oddly, I have found a few cases where the name of the mother is not given. It seems strange, but I guess they all knew who the mother was and, as long as the bond assigned responsibility to someone other than the town, the court didn’t find it necessary to name the mother in the record.

I have also seen bonds, like the one I am sharing here, where the (apparent) mother was financially responsible. Perhaps she was a widow or from a family that had the financial resources and willingness to raise the child.

Bastardy Bond of Polley Smith
Rowan County, North Carolina, 1823

State of North Carolina
Rowan County

The Examination of Polley Smith of the
County aforesaid taken before us Enoch
Brock and (Jilman Bingman?) two of the said Justi
ces of said County this third day of
May 1823.
Who sayeth that she is now with Child
and that the said Child when born
will be a bastard and it is Likely to
be Chargeable to this County and that
Wiley Ward of the same county farmer
is the Father of the said Child.
Taken before us & signed the
day & year above written.

E. Brocke                Polley (X) Smith
JBingman                  Her Mark

This statement doesn’t say who will be financially responsible, but since Wiley Ward is named as the father, he was likely summoned to court to take responsibility.

Here is a second record, an actual bond, from 1822:

Tilly Holdton, 1822
Rowan County, North Carolina

State of North Carolina
Rowan County

KNOW all Men by these presents, that we John Boyer, Frisby Trott, & Samuel Lewis
are held firmly bound unto Ja. Fisher Esquire,
Chairman of said court, in the sum of Five Hundred
pounds, current money, to be paid to the said
Ja. Fisher or his successors:
To the which payment well and truly to be made, we bind our-
selves, our heirs, executors and administrators, jointly and severally,
firmly by these presents. Sealed with our seals, and dated this
23rd day of May Anno Domini 1822

The Condition of the above Obligation is such, That if the above
bounden John Boyer
the reputed father of a base born child begot on the body of tilly
Holdton a single woman of said County, shall
keep the said County of Rowan free and indemnified
from all costs and charges in and about the maintenance of said child,
and do and fulfil every order of the Court of said County relative
to the said child, then this obligation to be void, else to remain in
full force and virtue.

Singed, sealed & delivered             John (X) Boyer
in the presence of                                Samuel (X) Lewis
                                                                        Frisby (X) Trott

I have read that these bonds were required in some states until the early 20th century. If you find a female ancestor with a child, but no apparent husband, check county court records for a bastardy bond.


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